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Former Starbucks employee Catherine Roscart says she was fired by the coffee giant on a technicality after she broke her manager's unwritten rule and served a man who appeared to be homeless at a Starbucks on Wilshire Boulevard. (photo by Brandon Wise)

WILSHIRE BLVD — Catherine Roscart was busy making drinks one day at a local Starbucks when she was approached by a man complaining that his order for tea had been refused at the register.

“This is ridiculous,” the man reportedly said. “Would you turn Jesus away?”

Roscart agreed to ring up the drink order for two tea bags in a ceramic mug, swiping a Starbucks gift card the customer handed her.

That transaction got the barista fired from the Starbucks at the corner of 26th Street and Wilshire Boulevard last week, all because it involved a man who appeared to be homeless, Roscart claimed during a recent interview.

Trina Smith, spokeswoman for Starbucks Coffee Company, said in an e-mail that the termination was not because of whom Roscart served.

“While we can not discuss personal information of former partners, we can assure you that this partner was not separated because of who she did or did not serve,” Smith said.

The 23-year-old Florida transplant said the customer walked into the coffee shop on May 21 carrying an oversized backpack, an accessory commonly associated with the homeless. The man reportedly tried to put in an order for tea, but was refused because of a policy created by the store manager, calling it “no homeless, no transient,” Roscart said.

“She tells us not to serve them and was verbal about it,” Roscart said. “It might have been written on the board, I don’t know, it was her thing.”

The man then approached Roscart, mistaking her for the manager, giving the employee an earful about the supposed policy.

“I said I will serve you,” she said. “I don’t believe in this rule.”

After preparing the customer’s drink, she asked one of the other employees at the register to complete the transaction. The company reportedly has a policy in which only employees signed into the register are permitted to process transactions, a rule that has been broken without repercussions in the past, Roscart said.

But her coworkers were reluctant to act.

“I swiped the gift card,” she said. “It’s either him stealing and me letting him steal or ringing him up.”

Roscart wasn’t scheduled to work about a week and a half thereafter. When she went back to work on June 1, the store manager informed that the incident was being reviewed with the district manager.

Her employment was terminated on June 4 because of a technicality that Roscart was using a register to which she wasn’t assigned, she said.

During the meeting when Roscart was informed, she questioned how employees are to identify the homeless.

“I took off my hat and said look at my hair, I can be homeless,” she said. “We have a customer come in everyday and he has long white gray hair and always wears a baseball hat.

“If you look at that guy, you would bet he’s homeless, but he’s probably one of the wealthiest men in Santa Monica.”

The store manager was not available to comment.

John Maceri, the executive director of OPCC, said that while complaints of service refusals are uncommon, he does frequently hear about businesses that restrict use of restrooms.

“They’re concerned that homeless people will not use the bathrooms appropriately,” Maceri said. “I think more often times than not, they don’t want homeless people in their business.”

Roscart, who began working at Starbucks almost a year ago, said she disagreed with the policy since the manager instituted it several months ago, calling it discrimination. She adds that the customer gave no indication that he was homeless, other than carrying the oversized backpack.

Today the Santa Monica resident is still working part-time with a production company as a receptionist, having moved out to the city after graduating from Florida State University with a degree in creative writing and communication. She is in the process of contacting various nonprofit organizations to learn about her legal rights and whether she can take any action, alleging that the no homeless service rule is a verbal policy that was not included in the contract when she was hired by Starbucks.

After Roscart served the man his drink, he simply said thank you, sat and consumed his drink, and left.

“He just wanted hot tea,” she said.

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